This month’s current facilitator for WordSwell is Holly Harwood, held at the Universalist Unitarian Church at Cedar and Bonita, in Berkeley.

WordSwell Vision

WordSwell brings out the writer in people by helping them engage their creative unconscious in an energetic, playful, and healing manner.

WordSwell Mission

Through its power to connect with passion and the authentic self,

  • WordSwell works to enrich and help heal cancer patients, the elderly, our mentally ill, those in prisons, and youth in trouble;
  • WordSwell offers to work alongside and invigorate existing programs, creative writing in our schools, spoken word, art as therapy, creative venues for personal growth;
  • WordSwell seeks to increase political awareness through the Poets on 9/11 anthology, inviting people in all walks of life to present honest reactions to our political situation in concert with recognized poets; to enhance our own deep connection to our culture and our planet;
  • WordSwell develops and presents its own excursions into our gardens, into the Sierra, into the outback of our Western United States, and to Europe and Africa; through publications, readings, and teaching teachers;
  • WordSwell adds power to writers whether they are committed to healing, authenticity, personal growth, increasing writing skills, furthering a career, or enhancing social awareness.

Welcome to WordSwell

I tell my friends I’m one of the lucky ones who enjoy teaching, since that’s how many of us writers augment our writing incomes. I believe, though, that I gain such satisfaction because, more than teaching, I’m facilitating. I’m helping to bring out what passionate, heartfelt, poignant stories and poems are inside people, helping our authentic selves, that part of us that truly wants to come out and be a part of the world.

You’ll hear the same phrases and concepts in my workshops like, “Can you make that fresh? More precise? Show, don’t tell” that are used in other workshops, and I have a shelf of insightful how-to-write books, but our focus is shifted a small, crucial amount. Good writing is an ideal, and we do have bestsellers and committed poets in our groups, but our first goal is to put that burning core, the authentic self, on the page.

The cornerstones for our process reside on that bookshelf, too. One is Becoming a Writer (1934) by Dorothea Brandt, who believed in the creative unconscious, which is where that authentic self resides – science now informs us that more than 99% of the brain’s activity is unconscious – Brandt devised practical ways to get that power on the page. Another cornerstone is Writing Without Teachers (1972) by Peter Elbow, who was convinced it isn’t the teacher’s job to impose esthetics on students, and proposed a method to prevent this.

I didn’t choose these books thinking that, put together, they would present a useful method. Over the years, as I developed, they presented themselves as a fit for my teaching.

I didn’t choose this outfit at a clothiers; along the way these clothes became the comfortable ones. At root here is my temperament and my upbringing. Mom loved people, and would talk to anyone. And the livelihood of my mentor in life, Herbert Huncke, depended on his curiosity about people and his appreciation of what burns deep inside.

WordSwell is the brainchild of Edna Moran and Oceana Lot, who are active in my workshops and understand them. It is a project and a reaching out, but its foundation is the same as my teaching process. I like to think WordSwell is the house that has grown up around my workshops.

I tell my students, and it’s not just a joke, that I’m a tourist and their only job is to entertain me. The wilder, the more extravagant, the deeper, the truer, the more vulnerable, the more real their writing is, the happier I am.

WordSwell posits that this wildness has crucial applications, in making cancer patients’ healing more likely, in giving our elders richer and more viable years, in breaking from the confines, where they exist, of our limited educations, in giving our mentally ill a way to become well, in broadening out youth’s vision of self and of life, in giving prisoners a new and healthy lease on life, in showing what we truly do feel about Bush’s wars, in bringing our real selves into the world.

WordSwell Description

WordSwell is an upwelling at a significant moment in our lives. It happens often. Any moment of intensity, a moment of grief, of compassion, of love, of fear, of passion, of insight, of happiness, any moment of self-awareness, any “ah-hah!” triggers this upwelling of feeling and words.

WordSwell is a fountain rising through the chest.

The words of this fountain are not only arrangements of letters. They are labels on ideas, emotions, and concepts. They are records of our true response to what is happening, our deepest feelings about the event. WordSwell expands who we think we are and opens the boundaries of what we think life is. WordSwell is our authentic self, pushing at our skin from inside.

WordSwell figured in AN EYE FOR AN EYE MAKES THE WHOLE WORLD BLIND – POETS ON 9/11. Allen Cohen and I wanted to collect poems on 9/11 and bring the book out on its first anniversary. We chose to publish pieces that captured peoples’ responses to the event itself, and we had only a brief period to solicit material. I wrote letters and sent email invitations, and in two months we had more than 800 submissions. We had poems from old people, young people, famous people, unknown people, writers, non-writers, teachers, students.

My own WordSwell experience was inspiration for the anthology. Just after 9/11 a poem began pushing its way through my solar plexus. I didn’t want to write it: the event was too traumatic, my feelings were too chaotic, and the poem seemed to exploit 9/11. I had a wheelbarrow load of reasons not to write the poem. But the poem wouldn’t go away. Finally I gave in, the poem forced its way out and became a cornerstone to the anthology.

The only thing that impedes WordSwell is the conscious mind, the thought that this up-welling does not have value and that it should be ignored. I’m an experienced writer and I still took four or five days to allow the 9/11 poem to come out. That’s how powerful the restraints are. The anthology AN EYE FOR AN EYE only samples some of thewriting about the event, by a few of the vast numbers of people who must have experienced an up-welling at the time.

Are twenty or thirty percent of people aural – the neurological basis of those who use words? If we had ample time to get the word out for the anthology, surely we’d have found thousands, probably several hundred thousand, who’d had the courage to write down words. And if the conscious mind had not been restraining the others, and everyone who had the inclination to write did so, think of how many submissions we’d have had! Fifty or sixty million?

WordSwell deserves appreciation. It doesn’t take a huge event to set off this uprising in our bodies. Many small, everyday things provoke such responses, and when we put the words down on paper we honor the upwelling. This makes the experience enduring and keeps it from being simply a few thoughts that float through our minds and vanish. Our authentic response thus becomes something in the world and separate from us.

This gives us the power to deal with the experience and our response in a meaningful way. We can now reaffirm it, negotiate with it, and pronounce it ours. We thus become more powerful in the world. We become more integrated, stronger, healthier people. We become more authentic and more able to effect social change, more real in our interactions and in our loves. WordSwell graces and enriches our lives.

Statement of Nondiscrimination

WordSwell does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, genetic identification, political affiliation, or disability in its activities or programs.

We’re Looking for a Few Good Teachers

WordSwell is looking for people interested in teaching at WordSwell events. Training and explication of theory are available at the Crazy Child workshops, listed in the Calendar. Contact Clive Matson to enroll.